When many people grill or barbecue, convenience dictates that they use charcoal briquettes. The smell of charcoal is unmistakable, and it lends a flavor to the food that can't be captured on a gas grill; but the briquettes also contain chemicals and binders that are released as the charcoal heats up and turns to ash. One alternative is to use a natural wood charcoal -- it lights quickly, burns at a high temperature, and lends the food a natural smoky flavor.
Wood charcoal is aged and then baked in kilns with no oxygen until the wood turns into carbon. To use the wood charcoal, place a piece of newspaper at the bottom of a chimney starter. Fill the chimney the rest of the way with the wood and light. After ten to fifteen minutes, the coals will be ready; spread them out across the bottom of the grill. To barbecue or to use indirect heat, place equal amounts of wood charcoal on opposite sides of the grill. Place a drip pan in the center and cover with a cooking grate.
Using wood chips can lend additional flavor. Apple and cherry woods impart a sweeter flavor than the more pungent birch, hickory, and mesquite. Scrap lumber and plywood should never be used, as they are often treated with toxic chemicals. If the wood chips are fresh, put a handful on the coals and let them begin to smoke. If the wood is dried, it should be soaked in water for half an hour before being spread over the coals. To use wood chips on a gas grill, put them in a pie pan, smoke box, or on a piece of aluminum foil.